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Tony Blair facing legal action threat over Iraq War after damning Chilcot Report

Published 06/07/2016

Sir John Chilcot's inquiry is finally due to be published
Sir John Chilcot's inquiry is finally due to be published

Tony Blair was facing the threat of legal action over his decision to take Britain to war in Iraq after a long-awaited official report delivered a damning verdict on his government's justification, planning and conduct of the military intervention in 2003.

The Iraq Inquiry report said that war was launched on the basis of "flawed" intelligence at a time when dictator Saddam Hussein presented "no imminent threat" and diplomatic options for containing him had not been exhausted. The intervention ended six years later "a very long way from success", with the "humiliating" spectacle of UK troops in Basra making deals with local militia who had been attacking them.

Families of some of the 179 military personnel killed in Iraq branded the former prime minister a "terrorist", while Jeremy Corbyn offered an apology on Labour's behalf for what he described as "a stain on our party and our country".

Mr Blair said he took responsibility for shortcomings identified by Sir John Chilcot's report and felt "more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know" for the grief of those whose loved ones died.

But he said he still believed he was right to remove Saddam and insisted that the inquiry's findings should "lay to rest allegations of bad faith, lies or deceit".

Unveiling his report into the UK's most controversial military engagement since the end of the Second World War, inquiry chairman Sir John said the intervention "went badly wrong, with consequences to this day".

He made no judgment on whether military action was legal, but found that then attorney general Lord Goldsmith's decision that there was a legal basis for UK involvement in the US-led invasion was taken in a way which was "far from satisfactory".

Key findings in the 2.6 million-word report included:

:: The case for war was presented with "a certainty which was not justified";

:: It was based on "flawed" intelligence about the country's supposed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which was not challenged as it should have been;

:: The US-led coalition resorted to force to remove Saddam before peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted and in a way which undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council;

:: Planning for post-conflict Iraq was "wholly inadequate", with shortfalls in armoured vehicles to protect UK troops which "should not have been tolerated".

:: The risks of military action were "neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers" and the UK took on responsibility for four provinces of southern Iraq "without ensuring that it had the necessary military and civilian capabilities to discharge its obligations".

The report did not support claims that Mr Blair agreed a deal "signed in blood" to topple Saddam at a key meeting with George Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in 2002.

But it revealed that in July that year - eight months before Parliament approved military action - the PM committed himself in writing to backing the US president over Iraq, telling him: "I will be with you whatever."

And Sir John rejected Mr Blair's claims that the bloody insurgency and terrorism which erupted following Saddam's fall could not have been foreseen.

"We do not agree that hindsight is required," said Sir John. "The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and al Qaida activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion."

Tearful families responded with fury to the details of shortcomings in planning and preparation uncovered by the seven-year inquiry.

Military policeman's father Reg Keys said it was clear that the prime minister "deliberately misled" the country and that his son Tom "died in vain", while Roger Bacon, whose son Matthew was killed by a roadside bomb, said the families reserved the right "to call specific parties to answer for their actions in the courts".

Sarah O'Connor, whose brother Bob died when a military plane was shot down near Baghdad in 2005, branded Mr Blair "the world's worst terrorist".

The families could not be "proud" of the way the government treated their loved ones, said Mr Bacon, adding: "Never again must so many mistakes be allowed to sacrifice British lives and lead to the destruction of a country for no positive end."

In a statement summarising his findings, Sir John said: "We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.

"We have also concluded that the judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction - WMD - were presented with a certainty that was not justified.

"Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were under-estimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate. The Government failed to achieve its stated objectives."

The report was critical of intelligence agencies, which were working with an "ingrained belief" that Saddam retained chemical and biological warfare capabilities which he was hiding from UN inspectors and that he was determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) chairman Sir John Scarlett should have made clear to Mr Blair that suspicions about WMD had not been established "beyond doubt" prior to his publication in September 2002 of a dossier setting out the supposed threat from Saddam, the Chilcot Report found.

In a lengthy press conference in London, Mr Blair said he would never agree that those who died and were injured in Iraq "made their sacrifice in vain".

"They fought in the defining global security struggle of the 21st century against the terrorism and violence which the world over destroys lives, divides communities," he said.

"Their sacrifice should always be remembered with thanksgiving and with honour when that struggle is eventually won, as it will be."

While the Chilcot Report contained "serious criticisms", it showed that "there were no lies, Parliament and the Cabinet were not misled, there was no secret commitment to war, intelligence was not falsified and the decision was made in good faith", he said.

Announcing a two-day parliamentary debate on the report next week, Prime Minister David Cameron - who backed war in 2003 - told MPs: "The decision to go to war came to decision in this House. Members on all sides who voted for military action will have to take our fair share of the responsibility.

"We cannot turn the clock back but we can ensure that lessons are learned and acted on."

In a scathing assessment of Mr Blair's actions, Mr Corbyn - who opposed war from the start - said the report made clear that Parliament had been misled and the invasion was "an act of military aggression based on a false pretext".

But while shadow cabinet minister Paul Flynn said prosecution of Mr Blair should be "seriously considered", Labour leader Mr Corbyn stopped short of calling for his predecessor to be tried for war crimes, as some had expected.

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